Nation's gin tree in need of a tonic
By David Randall
Published: 18 February 2007
Juniper, the aromatic bush whose berries gave the world gin, is in trouble. It is dying out so relentlessly on British hillsides that a new study says if action is not taken it could disappear altogether. And the root of the problem is, well, sex.
Junipers were once widespread, and provided berries, wood for fires (it burns with a cedar-like fragrance) and prickly branches that gave farmers a natural "barbed wire". But with diminishing demand (most berries for gin now comes from Tuscany and Eastern Europe) and changing land-management patterns junipers have found it harder to regenerate. In England, the numbers of junipers have nearly halved since the early 1970s and, according to a report by Plantlife, a wild plant conservation charity, the decline continues to a dangerous level. One of the authors, Deborah Long, said: "In England there are very few junipers and those that we have are very old."
That would be bad for any species, but juniper has separate male and female plants. And falling populations of ageing plants do not make for a very fruitful love life. At 85 per cent of juniper sites Plantlife found not a single juniper seedling. Which would not matter were juniper a fast-growing plant, but it is not - unlike its well-known relative, the leylandii.
Plantlife hopes its report will spur peopleto regenerate junipers. Juniper is not just attractive, but harbours about 40 species of insects, and is one of only three native conifers. To lose one of them would be distinctly careless of us.